Anxiety During Pregnancy

Having anxiety during pregnancy is a real mental health condition. It is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign that a woman’s body needs help. A pregnant woman who suspects she has anxiety or experiences panic attacks should get help right away for the health of her baby.

What Is Normal?
Pregnancy can be a stressful time. If a woman is experiencing normal anxiety, she will find that it comes and goes. Often it is triggered by a stressful experience, such as a fight with a loved one or problems with other children. While some stress during pregnancy is normal, if it is beginning to bother the mother or impact her daily life, she should consult her doctor.

Antenatal Anxiety
A pregnant woman experiencing antenatal anxiety, or anxiety during pregnancy, may feel intense and excessive anxiety. Often, she cannot be able to pinpoint the reason for her anxiety. Even small tasks like paying the bills may make her feel anxious.
An expectant mother also experiences other symptoms in antenatal anxiety. Anxiety is one of the most common mental disorders, affecting one in four people, and the risk of anxiety is thought to increase during pregnancy.

Each case of antenatal anxiety is different for each patient. However, there are some common symptoms pregnant women can look out for. While having one or two of these symptoms does not necessarily indicate anxiety, having several of these symptoms may mean an expectant mother should see her doctor.

  • Persistent worry – While some worry is normal during pregnancy, worry that do not go away is not normal. Often, this worry is focused on the health or well-being of the baby.
  • Panic attacks – These are characterized by heart palpitations and an intense feeling of terror.
  • Finding it difficult to focus – Sometimes, this feeling is described as “brain fog.”
  • Becoming easily annoyed – Pregnant women with antenatal anxiety often find themselves getting irritated at family and friends easily.
  • Odd behavior changes – Pregnant women with antenatal anxiety often develop obsessive or compulsive behaviors.
  • Unexplainable sadness – Mothers with depression-like symptoms, such as crying for no reason and feeling consistently low, may be suffering from antenatal anxiety, especially if these symptoms persist for two weeks or more.

Because anxiety and depression go together during pregnancy, having anxiety may be a symptom of depression.

Women are more at risk for anxiety and depression during pregnancy because hormone changes can affect hormones in the brain that are related to depression and anxiety. Difficult life situations can also lead to feelings of depression and anxiety.

Depression and anxiety during pregnancy often go hand in hand. Moreover, in some cases, it can be a vicious cycle. Feeling depressed can lead to anxiety about why one is feeling depressed. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimates that between 14 percent and 23 percent of women experience depression during pregnancy.
Like clinical depression, depression during pregnancy is a mental disorder.

Panic Attacks
Anxiety can lead to panic attacks. These attacks can come quickly, seemingly without a cause. There are many symptoms of a panic attack, some of which a woman might experience all at once. Women experiencing panic attacks can have a racing heartbeat, dizziness, sweating, shaky limbs, tingling, shortness of breath, and a severe feeling of dread.
These attacks can last anywhere from five minutes to 20 minutes. While they can be terrifying, they are generally not dangerous for the mother or baby.

Effect on the Baby
Left untreated, anxiety during pregnancy can harm the baby. One study found that when a woman experiences anxiety during her pregnancy, the child’s neurodevelopment is at risk, and the baby is more likely to be born preterm.
After birth, any anxiety or depression a mother still has makes it harder for her to bond with her baby. Bonding with the baby right away is important for the baby’s development.
If a woman has lingering depression after her baby’s birth, she may not have the desire or strength to care for her baby. These babies may be less active and show higher levels of agitation.

Risk Factors
Anyone can experience anxiety during pregnancy. However, there are a few risk factors which can make a woman more likely to develop anxiety in pregnancy.

  • Family history – Genetics play a role. If a woman’s family members have had anxiety or panic attacks in the past, she is more likely to experience them as well.
  • Personal history – If a woman has had panic disorders or anxiety in the past, pregnancy generally makes them worse.
  • Too much stress – In women who experience excessive stress in their everyday life, panic attacks, and anxiety can be triggered.
  • Previous difficult birth – If a woman had a difficult birth or pregnancy in the past, she is more likely to experience anxiety in her next pregnancy.

While researchers do not know every risk factor that can result in anxiety, they believe that factors such as environment, physical well-being, and emotional well-being all play into a woman’s risk of having anxiety during pregnancy.

The good news is, there are many treatments for anxiety that can help an expectant mother feel better and calmer about her pregnancy. A pregnant woman’s doctor may suggest she use coping mechanisms. These include cognitive behavioral therapy, self-help resources, activity for emotional release, or medication.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches skills to cope with different problems such as anxiety. The idea behind cognitive behavioral therapy is that people’s feelings and behavior tend to reflect how they think about different situations. If they think about situations negatively, their feelings imitate that. In cognitive behavioral therapy, an individual suffering from anxiety works with a therapist to identify negative thinking patterns that may be causing anxiety.

Self-help Resources
Self-help resources can also help anxiety. A woman with anxiety may work through these resources by herself or with another individual who has suffered from similar problems.

Finding Release
It can help pregnant women with anxiety to find a release for their emotions. It can help them take their minds off their problems. Engaging in physical activity, such as walking, swimming, or yoga, can help the brain release endorphins. Endorphins kill pain, boost happiness, and relieve stress. Physical activity for as little as five minutes can help release endorphins from the brain.
For pregnant women where physical activity is not an option, mind-body wellness strategies can work. An expectant mother might try meditation, deep breathing exercises, journaling, or even acupuncture.

If these anxiety treatments are not working, or a pregnant woman’s anxiety is severe, her doctor may prescribe medication to ease her anxiety. A woman’s doctor may recommend antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which are fairly safe to take during pregnancy.

Anxiety in pregnancy is a very common thing. Having it does not mean a woman will be a bad mother. There are several ways to treat it, and expectant mothers should remember there is no “one size fits all” approach. What works for one woman may not work for another. Trying different techniques, such as stress management, self-help, and cognitive behavioral therapy, helps a woman get the peace of mind which is essential for her health and her baby.

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